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The family meal

I know times have changed and we can’t go back to the 1950s (some of you are saying, “thank goodness!”) but we can reinstate one holdover from days gone by — the family meal. Though The Brady Bunch and other similar shows from bygone eras may seem a little sappy in the new millennium, one thing they did right was to eat meals together as a family. Kids need this habit-forming activity from an early age if they want to learn to eat at the proper time — when everyone else is eating, during mealtimes. It’s time to revive family dinners and put an end to what feels like a revolving family restaurant in which people come and go all times of the day and eat whatever they want.

Even when both parents work and kids play sports, it is possible to have a family meal if you make it a priority. Most of my families from clinical practice who had a child with an eating disorder did not eat meals together. Certainly food for thought, isn’t it?

Research tells us that implementing regular family meals is tied to a decrease in teen risk of psychosocial problems, drug us, risky sexual behavior, and suicidal intention. Hey, that’s enough incentive for me! And, not surprisingly, children who eat with their parents tend to eat healthier diets. [Doherty, W., “Overscheduled Kids, Underconnected Families: the research evidence,” (2000). http://puttingfamiliesfirst.info/html/research.html].

The dinner table is NOT the place for arguments, stressful discussions, or criticism of your child’s grades, life, or clothing choices. Make mealtimes a stress-free zone. If you need further evidence to drive this point home, here it is: people who suffer eating disorders associate eating with stressful family meals and people. When and if they did eat family meals, mealtimes were tense and stressful because of the lack of emotional connection and unresolved family stress.

Revive the family meal and make it a priority for all involved. Look at your family’s schedule and adjust the mealtime accordingly for each day, sometimes eating earlier or later in order to accommodate the various activities scheduled. You may even want to rethink the family schedule if you feel you are overscheduled. If you don’t have even one day to eat at least one meal together, your family is too busy!

Meals should be associated with a relaxed, pleasant time. Good food is a pleasure, and so is good company. Work at making conversation lively and interesting. Ask about your child’s day. Tell a funny story. Engage on an emotional level with your child so he won’t have to engage on an emotional level with the food being served. Mealtimes are a great time to interact with one another and to enjoy a few minutes of peace and relaxation.

From Overweight Kids by Dr. Linda Mintle (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005). Excerpted with permission.

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